Child Abuse and Neglect
One of the most important measures of a government is how it cares for the children within its purview. Child abuse and neglect occur in every segment of society and are often the result of parents who were themselves abused or who do not have the resources to cope with difficult situations.
Virginia emphasizes parental outreach and education as well as protection of abused children. The Commonwealth's approach has resulted in an abuse rate that is substantially lower than the national average.
Why is This Important?
According to Prevent Child Abuse America, child abuse and neglect affects over 1 million children every year and costs our nation an estimated $220 million every day.
In Virginia, a child is abused or neglected every 75 minutes, and every 14 days a child dies from such mistreatment. The immediate impact of abuse or neglect on a child is tragic, but so, too, are the long-term consequences -- affecting children, their communities, and the Commonwealth as a whole. Child abuse is often hidden, may occur over time, and is usually preventable.
How is Virginia Doing?
Virginia has a relatively low child maltreatment rate, ranking 5th lowest in the United States for substantiated cases of abuse. In 2014, rates of child abuse rose in over half of all US states, including Virginia, which went from 3.2 case per 1,000 children in 2013 to 3.5 cases. Virginia's rate was much lower than the national average of 10.2 cases, as well as all of our peer states: Tennessee (8.1), North Carolina (9.9), and Maryland (12.5). Pennsylvania was again the leading state with only 1.3 cases of abuse per 1,000 children.
It is important to note, however, that comparing child maltreatment statistics across states is difficult because there is great variation in state laws, definitions, standards of evidence, and record keeping. In addition, it is estimated that up to 60% of child fatalities are incorrectly reported as accidents or other incidents, rather than as abuse.
Data from the Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS) shows that 49,868 Virginia children were reported as possible victims of abuse and neglect in 2015. 6,592 of these were founded reports, meaning that a review of the facts gathered during an investigation met the standard of evidence required in Virginia. Thirty-two percent of the children experiencing maltreatment were under the age of 4, and 75 percent were under the age of 12. The most common type of abuse was neglect -- a failure to provide adequate food, shelter, clothing, or supervision. Sixty-eight percent of Virginia's child abuse victims in 2015 were white; the remainder were black (33%) or Asian (1%).
After several years of general improvement, abuse rates racheted up in many regions in 2014, but dropped again for most in 2015. The Central region again had the lowest rate of child maltreatment in 2015 at 2.0 substantiated cases per 1,000 children. The Southwest and West Central regions had the highest rates, with 11.9 and 7.6 cases, respectively.
What Influences Child Abuse and Neglect?
Child abuse and neglect are not confined to any particular socioeconomic class, race or ethnicity, or religion. Children younger than 4 are at the greatest risk of severe injury or death. There are a number of situations that place children at particular risk for being abused or neglected, including:
- Parents who were themselves abused as children
- Teenage parents
- Parental or family substance abuse
- Parental depression, stress, or other mental health problems
- Family violence, such as intimate partner violence
- Unemployment and poverty
- Community violence
- Family isolation
- Parents who lack knowledge of child development and children's needs
- Lack of caregiver support for dealing with children with disabilities or developmental delays
What is the State's Role?
The Child Protective Services (CPS) Unit at the Virginia Department of Social Services:
- Operates a 24-hour child abuse and neglect hotline
- Administers grant monies to prevent and treat child abuse
- Develops statewide public awareness and education programs
- Maintains a database of offenders and victims of child abuse and neglect
Increasing awareness and public education have been shown to increase the percentage of cases reported.
Local social services departments are responsible for:
- Incoming reports of abuse and neglect
- Conducting investigations or family assessments for valid CPS reports
- Providing services that enhance child safety and prevent further abuse
State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.
Data and Definitions
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families, www.acf.hhs.gov/reports
Note: It is important to note that comparing rates with other states must be done with extreme caution, as statistics often reflect definitions and court practices that differ from state to state.
Virginia Department of Social Services, www.dss.virginia.gov/geninfo/reports/children/cps/all_other.cgi
Note: Alleged incidents of child maltreatment in Virginia may be referred for investigation or family assessment.
- Child Welfare
- Guterman, N.B., Stopping Child Maltreatment Before It Starts: Emerging Horizons in Early Home Visitation Services. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2001.
- Estimated Annual Cost of Child Abuse and Neglect; Prevent Child Abuse America, 2016
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.